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How to Troubleshoot a Parking Brake That Won’t Release

parking brake

Parking brakes can be mind boggling when it does not release. When the parking brake does not release, you can damage the transmission or engine trying to overcome the braking force.

The parking brake system is simple in design and helps keep the vehicle from moving when placed at rest. If the parking brake return spring was to break when applying the brakes, then the brakes would have no way of returning to the rest position. However, that is not only the problem that could cause a parking brake to stay engaged.

If the parking brakes won’t release, then you need to check the following:

  • Corroded or rusty parking brake cable
  • Damaged or missing return spring
  • Rear caliper pivot arm has seized
  • Caliper with a stuck piston

Part 1 of 3: Diagnosing the parking brake cable for corrosion or rust

Preparing the vehicle to check the parking brake cable

Materials Needed

  • Flashlight
  • Jack
  • Jack stands
  • Safety glasses
  • Wheel chocks

Step 1: Park your vehicle on a flat, hard surface. Make sure that the transmission is in park (for automatics) or in 1st gear (for manuals).

Step 2: Place wheel chocks around the rear tires that will be remaining on the ground. Engage the parking brake to the lock the rear tires from moving.

Step 3: Raise the vehicle. Using a floor jack that is recommended for the weight of the vehicle, lift under the vehicle at its specified jacking points until the wheels are completely off the ground.

Step 4: Place the jack stands. The jack stands should go under the jacking point locations. Then lower the vehicle onto the jack stands. For most modern cars, the jacking points for jack stands will be on the pinch weld just under the doors along the bottom of the car.

Checking the condition of the parking brake cable

Step 1: Put on your safety glasses and grab your flashlight Locate the parking brake cable in the cab of the vehicle.

Step 2: Check to see if the cable is corroded or full of rust. Look for the cable pin to be corroded to the parking brake pedal.

Step 4: Look at the connections. Inspect to see where the parking brake cable attaches to the rear brakes. Check to see if the cable is corroded where it attaches to the rear brakes.

Lowering the vehicle after performing the diagnosis

Step 1: Collect all tools and your creeper and place them out of the way.

Step 2: Raise the vehicle. Using a floor jack that is recommended for the weight of the vehicle, lift under the vehicle at its specified jacking points until the wheels are completely off the ground.

Step 3: Remove the jack stands and keep them far away from the vehicle.

Step 4: Lower the vehicle to where all four wheels are on the ground. Pull out the jack and put it aside.

Step 5: Remove the wheel chocks from the rear wheels and put the aside.

Replace any corroded or rusty parking brake cables you come across.

Part 2 of 3: Diagnose the parking brake return spring for any damage or missing

Preparing the vehicle to check the parking brake return spring

Materials Needed

  • Flashlight
  • Flat tip screwdriver
  • Jack
  • Jack stands
  • Safety glasses
  • Sledge hammer 10 pounds
  • Tire iron
  • Torque wrench
  • Wheel chocks

Step 1: Park your vehicle on a flat, hard surface. Make sure that the transmission is in park (for automatics) or in first gear (for manuals).

Step 2: Place wheel chocks around the rear tires that will be remaining on the ground. Engage the parking brake to the lock the rear tires from moving.

Step 3: Raise the vehicle. Using a floor jack that is recommended for the weight of the vehicle, lift under the vehicle at its specified jacking points until the wheels are completely off the ground.

Step 4: Place the jack stands. The jack stands should go under the jacking point locations. Then lower the vehicle onto the jack stands. For most modern cars, the jacking points for jack stands will be on the pinch weld just under the doors along the bottom of the car.

Checking the condition of the parking brake return spring

Step 1: Put on your safety glasses and grab your flashlight Locate the parking brake return spring on the parking brake pedal or lever.

Step 2: Check to see if the return spring on the pedal or lever is broken, sprung, or missing.

Step 3: Go to the rear wheels and remove the lug nuts. Take off the rear wheels.

  • Note: If your vehicle has a hub cap, you will need to remove it first before removing the wheels. Most hub caps can be removed by a large flat tip screwdriver where others need to be removed by the tire iron.

Step 4: If your vehicle has drum brakes, grab a sledge hammer. Hit the side of the drum to free it up from the wheel studs and centering hub.

  • Warning: Do not hit the wheel studs. If you do, you will need replace damaged wheel studs, which can take some time.

Step 5: Remove the drums. If you cannot remove the drums, you may need to use your large screwdriver to loosen the rear brake shoes.

  • Note: Do not pry off the drums for you can damage the backing plate.

**Step 6: Check the condition of the return spring on the parking brake strut. See if the spring is sprung or broken. Also, check to see if the return spring on the service brakes is damaged, broken, or missing.

Lowering the vehicle after performing the diagnosis

Step 1: Collect all tools and your creeper and place them out of the way.

Step 2: Raise the vehicle. Using a floor jack that is recommended for the weight of the vehicle, lift under the vehicle at its specified jacking points until the wheels are completely off the ground.

Step 3: Remove the jack stands and keep them far away from the vehicle.

Step 4: Lower the vehicle to where all four wheels are on the ground. Pull out the jack and put it aside.

Step 5: Remove the wheel chocks from the rear wheels and put the aside.

Have a professional mechanic inspect the damaged or missing return spring if necessary.

Part 3 of 4: Diagnose the condition of the rear caliper pivot arm for being seized

Preparing the vehicle to check the parking brake rear caliper pivot arm

Materials Needed

  • Flashlight
  • Flat tip screwdriver
  • Jack
  • Jack stands
  • Safety glasses
  • Sledge hammer 10 pounds
  • Tire iron
  • Torque wrench
  • Wheel chocks

Step 1: Park your vehicle on a flat, hard surface. Make sure that the transmission is in park (for automatics) or in first gear (for manuals).

Step 2: Place wheel chocks around the rear tires that will be remaining on the ground. Engage the parking brake to the lock the rear tires from moving.

Step 3: Use a tire iron to loosen the lug nuts on the rear wheels.

  • Note: Do not remove the lug nuts until the wheels are off the ground

Step 4: Raise the vehicle. Using a floor jack that is recommended for the weight of the vehicle, lift under the vehicle at its specified jacking points until the wheels are completely off the ground.

Step 5: Place the jack stands. The jack stands should go under the jacking point locations. Then lower the vehicle onto the jack stands. For most modern cars, the jacking points for jack stands will be on the pinch weld just under the doors along the bottom of the car.

Checking the condition of the parking brake rear caliper pivot arm

Step 1: Put on your safety glasses and grab your flashlight Go to the rear wheels and remove the lug nuts. Take off the rear wheels.

  • Note: If your vehicle has a hub cap, you will need to remove it first before removing the wheels. Most hub caps can be removed by a large flat tip screwdriver where others need to be removed by the tire iron.

Step 2: Look at the caliper pivot arm for any corrosion or damage. See if the arm is bent or if the arm is stuck and won’t move.

**Step 5: When you are done diagnosing the vehicle, if you plan on working on the rear brakes later, you will need to put back on the wheels. Put on the lug nut and tighten them up with the tire iron.

Lowering the vehicle after performing the diagnosis

Step 1: Collect all tools and your creeper and place them out of the way.

Step 2: Raise the vehicle. Using a floor jack that is recommended for the weight of the vehicle, lift under the vehicle at its specified jacking points until the wheels are completely off the ground.

Step 3: Remove the jack stands and keep them far away from the vehicle.

Step 4: Lower the vehicle to where all four wheels are on the ground. Pull out the jack and put it aside.

Step 5: Get a torque wrench and torque the lug nuts. Make sure that you use a star pattern to ensure that wheels are torqued properly with no runout or wobble effect. Put on the hubcap. Make sure that the valve stem is visible and free from contacting the hubcap.

Wheel lug nut torque values

  • 4 cylinder and V6 engine vehicles 80 to 90 foot pounds
  • V8 engines on cars and vans 90 to 110 foot pounds
  • Large vans, trucks, and trailers 100 to 120 foot pounds
  • One ton and 3/4 ton vehicles 120 to 135 foot pounds

Step 5: Remove the wheel chocks from the rear wheels and put the aside.

Replace the rear caliper pivot arm if it has seized.

Part 4 of 4: Diagnose the condition of the caliper with a stuck piston

Preparing the vehicle to check the parking brake caliper with a stuck piston

Materials Needed

  • Flashlight
  • Flat tip screwdriver
  • Jack
  • Jack stands
  • Safety glasses
  • Sledge hammer 10 pounds
  • Tire iron
  • Torque wrench
  • Wheel chocks

Step 1: Park your vehicle on a flat, hard surface. Make sure that the transmission is in park (for automatics) or in first gear (for manuals).

Step 2: Place wheel chocks around the rear tires that will be remaining on the ground. Engage the parking brake to the lock the rear tires from moving.

Step 3: Use a tire iron to loosen the lug nuts on the rear wheels.

  • Note: Do not remove the lug nuts until the wheels are off the ground.

Step 4: Raise the vehicle. Using a floor jack that is recommended for the weight of the vehicle, lift under the vehicle at its specified jacking points until the wheels are completely off the ground.

Step 5: Place the jack stands. The jack stands should go under the jacking point locations. Then lower the vehicle onto the jack stands. For most modern cars, the jacking points for jack stands will be on the pinch weld just under the doors along the bottom of the car.

Checking the condition of the parking brake caliper with a stuck piston

Step 1: Put on your safety glasses and grab your flashlight Go to the rear wheels and remove the lug nuts. Take off the rear wheels.

  • Note: If your vehicle has a hub cap, you will need to remove it first before removing the wheels. Most hub caps can be removed by a large flat tip screwdriver where others need to be removed by the tire iron.

Step 2: Remove the upper mounting bolt to the caliper. Slide the caliper off the rotor and remove the brake pads. Using a large flat screwdriver, try to screw in the bolt that is on the caliper piston. The piston is on a threaded screw and rotates out as it adjusts for the parking brake.

  • Warning: Do not attempt to force the piston in with a form of a clamp. You will damage the piston and the adjusting bolt.

**Step 5: When you are done diagnosing the vehicle, if you plan on working on the rear brakes later, you will need to put back on the wheels. Put on the lug nut and tighten them up with the tire iron.

Lowering the vehicle after performing the diagnosis

Step 1: collect all tools and your creeper and place them out of the way.

Step 2: Raise the vehicle. Using a floor jack that is recommended for the weight of the vehicle, lift under the vehicle at its specified jacking points until the wheels are completely off the ground.

Step 3: Remove the jack stands and keep them far away from the vehicle.

Step 4: Lower the vehicle to where all four wheels are on the ground. Pull out the jack and put it aside.

Step 5: Get a torque wrench and torque the lug nuts. Make sure that you use a star pattern to ensure that wheels are torqued properly with no runout or wobble effect. Put on the hubcap. Make sure that the valve stem is visible and free from contacting the hubcap.

Wheel lug nut torque values

  • 4 cylinder and V6 engine vehicles 80 to 90 foot pounds
  • V8 engines on cars and vans 90 to 110 foot pounds
  • Large vans, trucks, and trailers 100 to 120 foot pounds
  • One ton and 3/4 ton vehicles 120 to 135 foot pounds

Step 5: Remove the wheel chocks from the rear wheels and put the aside.

Replace a caliper with a stuck piston if needed.

Fixing the parking brake that won’t engage can help improve the braking of the vehicle and prevent any damage to the brake system and transmission.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details
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